I’m sure that you recognize that it is an awesome responsibility to speak to this vast congregation. I seek your faith.
Last Thursday, as part of our preparation for this conference, all of the General Authorities had an experience familiar to very many of you in this congregation. In a spirit of fasting and prayer, we and our wives partook of the wonderful blessing of an endowment session in the Salt Lake Temple.
We left that experience better men and better women because everything that occurred there was uplifting and refining.
I need not remind you that it is a precious privilege to enter a house of the Lord and participate in the ordinances therein administered. How remarkable is each of these sacred buildings which has been dedicated for purposes that are divine and eternal in their nature. They are available to all of us because of a price paid by others.
The heaviest price of all was paid by the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. He gave his life on Calvary’s cross for the sins of all mankind. Because of that gift, all are assured the blessings of the resurrection. And further, because of that gift, there may be eternal life and exaltation in our Father’s kingdom if we make the effort to gain it.
In comparison with the immensity of the Savior’s sacrifice and the consequences of His atonement, the price to erect these sacred temples is small indeed.
It was so counted by those who constructed the magnificent Salt Lake Temple.
Today is the first Sunday of April 1993. Go back with me an even century to this same Temple Square. No, make it an even 101 years. It is April conference of 1892. These grounds are crowded with people. The multitude is the largest ever assembled in this area of the West. There are thousands and thousands of them. All cannot get on the grounds, so large is the number. They are on surrounding streets. Some have climbed telephone poles; others, trees. The occasion is the placing of the capstone of the temple, the great round granite sphere which crowns the highest steeple on the east end. It is a day of celebration. Atop the ball is a bronze figure gilded with gold. The figure represents Moroni—prophet, writer, and compiler of the Book of Mormon. The figure represents the angel spoken of by John the Revelator when he declared with prophetic vision:
“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
“Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” (Rev. 14:6–7.)
In the presence of that multitude, President Wilford Woodruff touched a switch. The capstone with the angel settled in place. President Woodruff led the multitude in a great and sacred shout: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb!”
There had been nothing before it and there has been nothing just like it since.
The shout was an expression of worship. It was an expression of gratitude. This was an unequaled day of thanksgiving. This was a day of which these people had dreamed for almost forty years. You have heard and read and seen much recently concerning that forty-year struggle.
My six-year-old great-grandson, Peter, was in Salt Lake City on vacation with his family last summer. His parents brought him here to Temple Square. They pointed out the temple and explained that it had taken forty years to build. He asked, “Why did it take the pioneers forty years to build the temple when it only took the Lord six days to create the whole world?”
In July of 1847 Brigham Young had pointed out the location, only four days after the pioneers arrived in the valley. That spot had been marked by Wilford Woodruff. On April 6, 1853, the cornerstones were laid. All of you are familiar with the history of the years that followed—years of effort and heartbreaking disappointment; years of labor in sunshine and storm to bring great blocks of granite from these everlasting hills and to dress that stone, each piece according to a carefully designed pattern; years of unyielding faith in the pursuit of a goal.
These were years during which three other beautiful temples had been erected in this territory—in St. George, in Logan, and in Manti.
But the greatest dream of all centered here on Temple Square. And now by April of 1892 the exterior walls, steeples, and roof had been completed. Small wonder that the people shouted hosanna. A generation and more had passed since the work had commenced. Wilford Woodruff was now eighty-five and President of the Church. Before the vast crowd assembled on that day, Elder Francis M. Lyman made a motion that they now finish the interior and dedicate the temple one year from that day, April 6, 1893, forty years from the day of the laying of the cornerstones.
A mighty shout of approval filled the air.
But it was one thing to say yes in the excitement of the occasion, and another to actually accomplish the work. Some with practical minds and substantial experience said it could never be done.
The building was a shell. A mighty work of consecrated effort was commenced to finish the interior.
Floors were laid, partitions set in place, plumbing installed, and electrical lines run. And then came the tremendous finishing work.
Wooden lath by the mile was nailed to the framing. Lime by the ton was slaked to become plaster. Timber was cut, seasoned, sawed, and shaped into magnificently beautiful woodwork.
While preparing the ordinances for use in more modern temples, I have spent hours and days working in the magnificent fifth-floor Assembly Room of the Salt Lake Temple. I have marveled at the craftsmanship of those who built such strong and graceful structures as the four corner stairways of that room. I have appreciated architectural masterpieces across this world, but I have never seen more beautiful workmanship than is found in the House of the Lord. There are many fluted columns with delicately carved floral pieces at their crown. There are numerous intricate and artistic design works made in stone and wood and plaster. Nothing was spared to make this house of God a place of beauty.
It must have appeared impossible to get all of this done in a year’s time. But craftsmen who had learned their exacting trades in Europe and the British Isles, and who had come as converts to these valleys of western America, exerted themselves unsparingly. Somehow it happened. Somehow it all came together, and this within a period of twelve months.
Wonder of wonders, and miracle of miracles, it was ready on the fifth of April. Leading newspapers of America had sent correspondents. Unstinting was their praise of what they saw. The day before the dedication President Woodruff invited a substantial number of nonmembers of the Church to go through the building. They were moved. They recognized that here was beauty that had come not alone of skill but also of inspiration.
May I now leave my narrative for a few moments to say that I stand in reverent appreciation and gratitude for this singular accomplishment. All of this was done in the days of the poverty of our people. We have since built and dedicated forty-one additional temples, every one a classic in its own right. We shall dedicate another beautiful temple in the San Diego area later this month. We have been blessed with the means to do all of this. These means have come of the dedicated consecrations of our people. Every one of these buildings is sacred. Every one contains the inscription found on the east wall of the Salt Lake Temple: “Holiness to the Lord—the House of the Lord.” Every one has been dedicated for the same purpose: to assist in accomplishing the divine work of God our Eternal Father, who declared, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
The ordinances that are administered in each of these temples are identical to and as efficacious as the ordinances administered in the Salt Lake Temple.
We have been criticized for the cost of these structures, a cost which results from the exceptional quality of the workmanship and the materials that go into them. Those who criticize do not understand that these houses are dedicated as the abode of Deity and, as Brigham Young stated, are to stand through the Millennium.
To me it is significant that the Salt Lake Temple, built in pioneer times, is the largest we have ever built regardless of our circumstances. Our architects say that it contains 253,000 square feet. By comparison, the beautiful Los Angeles Temple contains 190,000. The Washington Temple, which is seen by hundreds of thousands who drive the Beltway, contains 160,000. I think that our people have never in all of our history undertaken or completed a building of such magnitude, complexity of design, and artistic excellence as the structure we today honor on the centennial of its dedication.
But why all of this effort centered in one building, and why all of this labor to build others to serve the same purposes?
It was then as it is now. Those purposes, for they are several in number, are set forth in words of revealed truth. Listen to a few lines from the dedicatory prayer offered at the Kirtland Temple in 1836, language which came to the Prophet Joseph Smith by revelation:
“And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them” (D&C 109:22).
“Put upon thy servants the testimony of the covenant, that when they go out and proclaim thy word they may seal up the law, and prepare the hearts of thy saints for all those judgments thou art about to send, in thy wrath, upon the inhabitants of the earth, because of their transgressions, that thy people may not faint in the day of trouble” (D&C 109:38).
And from further revelation received in the days of Nauvoo:
“For there is not a place found on earth that he [the Lord] may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.
“For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead—
“For this ordinance belongeth to my house. …
“I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me. …
“And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people;
“For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (D&C 124:28–31, 40–41.)
Each temple built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands as an expression of the testimony of this people that God our Eternal Father lives, that He has a plan for the blessing of His sons and daughters of all generations, that His Beloved Son, Jesus the Christ, who was born in Bethlehem of Judea and crucified on the cross of Golgotha, is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, whose atoning sacrifice makes possible the fulfillment of that plan in the eternal life of each who accepts and lives the gospel. Every temple, be it large or small, old or new, is an expression of our testimony that life beyond the grave is as real and certain as is mortality. There would be no need for temples if the human spirit and soul were not eternal. Every ordinance performed in these sacred houses is everlasting in its consequences. While upon the earth the Lord conferred upon His chosen disciples the eternal priesthood, saying:
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19.)
This same authority was bestowed in this generation under the hands of Peter, James, and John, who had received it directly from the Lord. This power, to seal in the heavens that which is sealed upon the earth is exercised in these holy houses. Every one of us is subject to mortal death. But through the eternal plan made possible by the sacrifice of the Redeemer, all may go on to glories infinitely greater than any of the wondrous things of this life.
This is why those of an earlier generation struggled so hard with such tremendous faith to build a house worthy to be dedicated to God our Eternal Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And such was the purpose in building the temples that preceded the Salt Lake Temple and in building those which have followed, including the beautiful new San Diego Temple due soon for dedication.
Parenthetically, I take this opportunity to say that there will be others.
A beautiful temple in Bountiful, Utah, is scheduled to be dedicated in 1995.
A site in American Fork, Utah, which the Church has owned for many years, will become the location for another.
Construction is proceeding on another in Orlando, Florida. Hopefully sometime this year we shall break ground for the St. Louis Missouri Temple. A site has been secured in Connecticut, and yet another in northern England. Architectural work is proceeding on projected temples in Bogotá, Colombia, Guayaquil, Ecuador, and in Hong Kong, and we are in the process of acquiring property in Spain and at least three other nations.
While doing all of this, we are doing as our forefathers did—we are enlarging and strengthening the stakes of Zion; we are carrying the gospel to the nations of the earth; we are carrying forward a mighty undertaking of family history research so that a work of redemption might go forward in behalf of millions who have passed beyond the veil of death. We are assisting the poor and the needy and contributing generously to the feeding and clothing of many thousands in foreign land, not of our faith, but who are made hungry and destitute because of conflict and the ravages of nature.
Now let me return to April 6, 1893. A terrible storm arose that day. Rain fell in torrents, and the wind blew with savage fury. It was as if the forces of evil were lashing out in violent protest against this act of consecration.
But all was peace and quiet within the thick granite walls. The aged prophet, then eighty-six, led the way to the beautiful fifth-floor assembly room. The room was filled to capacity in this, the first of forty-one sessions. After appropriate preliminary expressions in music and speech, President Woodruff stepped to the pulpit at the east end of the room and offered the prayer of dedication.
It was a moving and powerful prayer. It was an expression of the hearts of those who love the Lord.
It was followed by a wondrous voicing of the Hosanna Shout by all assembled. The choir then burst forth with Evan Stephens’s setting of those same words of praise to the Almighty: “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to God and the Lamb!”
Then the congregation joined in singing, “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning,” which had first been sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.
And now, as I leave with you my testimony of this sacred house, of the faith of those who built it, of the truth and validity of the ordinances which are performed therein, I have invited the Tabernacle Choir to sing again this same Hosanna Anthem, followed by the congregations, wherever we may be, singing, “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning! The latter-day glory begins to come forth.” (Hymns, 1985, no. 2.)
I hope that as we do so, there will be stirred within each of us a flaming testimony of the divinity of this work and a spirit of gratitude to the Almighty whose kingdom this is. In the name of our Divine Redeemer, Jesus Christ, amen.